For my first semester of college (Fall 1969), I went to the local community college; I earned the rest of my Bachelor’s degree at a Bible College (now a University). I was Baptist when I attended the community college, so as soon as I arrived I joined the Baptist Student Union. As the Christmas season approached, some of the members suggested we promote a ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ campaign as an objection against the term ‘Xmas’.
After a bit of discussion, I spoke up: “Wait a minute guys; Christ is already in Xmas!”
I then explained the ancient use of the Greek letter ‘X’ (Chi) for ‘Christ’; there is nothing nefarious about it. Most of the earliest Christians spoke Greek, and Christ is spelled ‘Χριστός’. So in their writings they abbreviated words that began with ‘Christ’ as ‘X’ (‘Xian’ for example).
Some of the students were surprised, but they accepted my explanation and we did not do the project.
Other Abbreviations Related to Jesus
Every year around this time believers begin campaigning to put Christ back in Xmas with the idea that the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas’ crosses out Christ. But if we object the use of ‘X’ to represent ‘Christ’, should we also object to all the other abbreviations that do not spell out ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’? I don’t think anyone wants that.
Here are a number of such abbreviations.
XP – Chi-Rho. Another ancient abbreviation used in the church is the Chi-Rho symbol for Christ, which comprises the first two letters of ‘Χριστός’ (Christos); the P is superimposed over the X to create a Christogram. The Chi element in the symbol also depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and you can still see the Chi-Rho in Christian contexts today.
IHS (Iota, Eta, Sigma). Many churches also use the early symbol IHS which are capitals of the first three letters of Jesus in Greek (ΙΗΣΟΎΣ). It is found on communion wafers, altars, baptismal fonts, books, stained glass, and in other places.
AΩ – Alpha and Omega. Every one is familiar with the Alpha-Omega; the phrase is found in three places in the book of Revelation to represent Jesus as the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
IXθYΣ. Who hasn’t ridden behind a car displaying this set of Greek letters in the outline of a fish? The word IXθYΣ (sounds like Ickthoos) is Greek for ‘Fish’–a symbol used very early by Christians as a code indicating that one is a Christian. The letters represent Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Savior.
INRI (Latin). The earliest of all abbreviations representing Jesus is found in the Bible itself. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate ordered a placard to be nailed on the cross above his head bearing ‘INRI’, which in Latin stands for Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews.
What a loss for us if we no longer had these old symbols of Jesus; let’s not try to ban any of these legitimate abbreviations for our Lord—including Xmas.
So Merry Xmas to you! I hope you are having a happy holiday season.